A ‘nuc’, or nucleus colony of bees, is the most common way to purchase a hive of honey bees. A nuc generally consists of a queen, 2 or more frames of brood, a frame of feed and an empty frame or frame of foundation that gives the bees space to cluster. A nuc can vary in the total number of frames (brood, feed and empty), the age of the queen and the type of shipping box. Ontario nucs are most often sold with 4 frames in an enclosed, easily transportable box.
The Ontario Bee Breeders Association's (OBBA) standard for a 4 frame nuc is as follows:
• Queen bee
• 2 frames of brood, ½ to ⅔ capped, with adhering bees
• 1 frame of feed with adhering bees
• 1 frame of foundation/empty comb
• Extra bees to ensure the brood will be kept warm
This is also the standard for nucs here at Huckleberry Hives. A good nuc, when made up with approximately ½ to ⅔ of the brood capped, should produce some surplus honey that you can harvest in an average year if it is established on drawn comb. Be aware that if there is a delay in pick-up or installation, the capped brood may begin to hatch. Additionally, if you aren't able to provide drawn comb for the bees, they will consume 8LBS of honey per 1LB of wax made while drawing out the comb, so they will likely need all of their honey themselves. You can help mitigate this by feeding sugar syrup to your new hive to help supply them with energy for wax building.
Another important question to ask: How old is the queen? Is the queen Ontario stock? A really early season nuc may have a queen mated the previous summer; ideally the daughter of a queen selected for traits such as hygienic behavior, honey production and bred for local conditions. Later in the season nucs are made with queens produced in the same season. Here at Huckleberry Hives we are in year 4 of establishing a formal breeding program and we mark our queens using the international colour system to ensure that we know how old your queen is.
Is it a spring nuc or a summer nuc? A spring nuc is available throughout the month of May into early June and will often consist of an overwintered queen on her own brood. In this respect, the queen has already proven to be a good layer and has survived her first winter with no problems. A summer nuc is one sold mid June and after and will generally have a newly mated queen, possibly boosted with brood from other hives. A summer nuc will likely not produce enough honey for you to harvest in it's first year.
What is the cost? Huckleberry Hives has joined the Ontario Resistant Honey Bee Selection (ORHBS) program as of 2019 to ensure that Huckleberry Hives stock is properly bred for hygiene (disease resistance), overwintering and gentleness. This leads to higher quality in our nucs and queens and is reflected in the price, which you can expect to be adjusted annually to account for costs associated with scientific testing and inflation. Think about it, would you want to pay as much for a spring nuc made up of random brood and an imported queen that is not acclimatized to our environment?
Lastly, any beekeeper selling queens and nucs is required to have a Queen and Nuc Permit from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). This ensures that your queen and nuc producer is regularly inspected and is not spreading diseases such as American Foulbrood and is managing their hives' varroa mite levels. The nuc box or paperwork should have an attached Queen and Nuc permit. All first time beekeepers are encouraged to take at least one hands-on workshop before jumping in to beekeeping. Workshops are offered by the OBA Tech-Transfer Program, the University of Guelph, as well as some experienced beekeepers. This year (2023), Huckleberry Hives is collaborating with Nith Valley Apiaries and Silver Creek Nursery to bring back (with improvements!) the New Beekeeper's Bundle Deal that we started last year!